Sunday, August 17, 2014

Seela Misra

Saturday night Amy and I headed over to catch Seela Misra and her band at Strange Brew.  I'd seen Seela perform before, although previously it had been in a solo, singer-songwriter, song swapping format with Little Brave and Daniel Thomas Phipps.
This time she had a formidable band backing her.  Her husband, John Greene, played drums, Chris Vestre played guitar, and I think the bass player was named Tom Pearson.  A talented group of singers called The Candy Hearts sang backing vocals.  Curtis McMurtry, an up-and-coming performer in his own right, joined them on stage as a guest for a few songs.  I've seen Curtis previously at the Saxon Pub, and he's really developed into a talented and interesting performer. (And yup- he's the son of James McMurtry and the grandson of Larry, for those who are wondering.)

(Seela with her band and The Candy Hearts)

Seela and her band played a mix of soulful, folkish pop, slower ballads, and jazz style rock-pop.

The band was fun to listen to.  Vestre and Greene are both very talented.  Vestre is a sort of subdued guitar player with a mellow sound, but thrust into the spotlight during moments demanding solos, his abilities shine through with unusual, melodic parts that tie the songs together rather than simply seeking to show off.  The rest of the time he mostly lends his skills by spicing things up with licks and guitar lines that weave themselves through the main melodies of the songs.
I've heard John Greene play before, and I have a lot of respect for him as a drummer.  Like Vestre, he's sort of a subtle musician- very talented, but content to lay back and simply support a song.  He occasionally shows off his substantial drumming skills by way of fills and flourishes that pass by like snatches of interesting conversations overheard on a crowded street.  Greene utilizes his kit in unusual ways- drumming with his hands, employing shakers and tambourines, and switching between mallets, sticks, and rods- but his techniques all seem to support and add to the songs, building upon the sounds and melodies without ever distracting from them.
Pearson's bass parts were fluid and interesting.  They lent a solid foundation to the songs, while still flowing and moving and adding a little intrigue and color to the music. 

(Seela and her band are joined by Curtis McMurtry
on banjo)

Seela, of course, is great.  She's got a powerful, soulful voice, and she has a range and style that easily fits everything from folk to pop to jazz.  The Candy Hearts added a layer of harmony that really filled out the sound of the band and bolstered Seela's talents without overpowering her sound.  Personally, I think the jazzier songs do the best job of showcasing Seela's skills as a singer, but her pop and folk songs are also excellent, displaying enough simplicity to keep them toe tapping and catchy (or, on the slower ones, mournful and heartbreaking), while containing enough complexity to keep them interesting.  Her lyrics are poetic and intriguing, the kind of lines that make you know what she means even if you don't always understand exactly, in a literal sense, what she's referring to.  Her songs have catchy grooves, but they're not entirely simple.  They have harmonies, and sometimes rhythmic shifts, that keep your attention.  Good stuff.

Seela has been played with a lot of different notable Austin musicians over the years, and seeing her perform on Saturday reinforced the notion that she deserves her place at the table as one of the more well respected Austin musicians of her generation.  Hopefully her star will continue to shine brighter and brighter in the Austin music scene as time goes on.